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2024 is set to be something of a first when it comes to superhero films.
For more than fifteen years the box office has been dominated by Marvel Studios and the MCU, with the studio increasing its output to three films a year in 2017. For the most part, they’ve maintained this trend every year since, with it only being interrupted by the real-life Blip of 2020 (but to make up for that, a whopping four films were released in 2021).
Couple this with an increasing number of Disney+ shows being added to their slate and for better or worse, it feels like there’s always a new Marvel project just around the corner.
That’s why it’s surprising to note that the only MCU film scheduled for this year is July’s Deadpool 3. It’s the first year since 2012 that there’ll only be a single MCU film released.
Things are just as quiet over at Warner Bros./DC, where the only film due out this year is Joker: Folie à Deux (Side note: is it just a coincidence that this year’s MCU and DC films are both sequels to Zazie Beetz movies?).
To be fair though, DC’s output has been less consistent than Marvel’s, and their film slate is currently in the middle of an overhaul, under the watchful eyes of James Gunn and Peter Safran. Things will presumably pick up when their new DC film universe debuts in 2025 with Superman Legacy.
But while these two giants are taking time to regroup, the superhero slack is being picked up by an unexpected source, and you probably didn’t even realise it. With three films scheduled for release this year, 2024’s dominant superhero universe will actually be Sony’s Spider-Man Universe.
Sony’s hopes for their own Marvel film universe has been evident for well over a decade, with it being well-known that the Amazing Spider-Man films were supposed to launch a host of spin-offs. There were talks of a Sinister Six movie, a Black Cat/Silver Sable team-up film and even an Aunt May origin story (OK…?).
But in 2018 they finally released their first attempts at a MCU-adjacent movie, with not one, but two offerings: Venom, and the much-lauded animated feature, Into the Spider-Verse.
Both films earned sequels – 2021’s Venom: Let There be Carnage and 2023’s Across the Spider-Verse. It looked like things were finally on the move for Sony, and before you knew it more films were greenlit, and they’d given an official name for their Marvel Character film universe: Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU).
2022’s Morbius, their next live-action film post-Venom, proved to be a big hit, but for all the wrong reasons. The instantly meme-able flick was a hot topic across the internet, because despite being derided by critics and fans alike, something about the film resonated with people on social media. Just not in the way Sony would have liked.
Countless memes were created, ironic praise was tweeted and hashtags were created, leading to the birth of that iconic catchphrase, “It’s Morbin’ time!” Morbius was such a trending topic that Sony appeared to interpret this as the movie was a hit, leading them to actually re-release the movie a few months later. As you might imagine though, this didn’t provide the boost to the box office numbers they were hoping for.
One of the most criticised parts of the movie was a hastily thrown-together post-credits scene with Michael Keaton’s Vulture that showed Sony was still trying to build intrigue with the promise of some kind of Sinister Six movie.
So that brings us to this year, 2024, during which Sony is set to release three Marvel films: Madame Web, Kraven the Hunter, and Venom 3. This is the heaviest output from Sony yet, and the first time that they won’t have any real competition in the superhero department.
The first up for release, Madame Web, due out on Valentine’s Day, is definitely the most surprising of the entire SSU slate so far, being based on a more obscure character from Spidey’s lore: Cassandra Webb, a.k.a. Madame Web, who’s typically depicted as an older clairvoyant woman who is blind and paralysed.
Dakota Johnson, who is playing Webb in the film, is noticeably none of those things, but if the trailer is anything to go by, her story may end up down one of those paths by the end of the film. It has the potential to be a unique entry in the superhero canon, and if nothing else shouldn’t feel like just another rehashed origin story.
Surprisingly, despite already being part of an established franchise, little is known about Venom 3 yet, but it is set to be released in November. Kraven, on the other hand, had its trailer released in June 2023, despite not being due for release until August 2024 (although that was only after it was leaked online).
This means that folks online have had plenty of time to, let’s say, offer their constructive criticism of the film. It’s garnered the typical kind of mixed reaction that you’d expect, given the popularity of the Kraven character (and as a side-note, Kraven fans can meet Mike Zeck, who worked on the iconic Kraven’s Last Hunt story, at Supanova Melbourne and Gold Coast this April!).
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Morbius and to a lesser degree, Venom have left a bad taste in the mouth of a very vocal sector of the internet, which has created a bias against the SSU. That’s not to say that there isn’t legitimate criticism to be leveled at Sony’s movies to date, but there are also positives to be found in each and every one of them.
Kraven may prove to be another Morbius, but who knows, if people give it a chance it just might surprise them. It’s important not to pre-emptively judge this new batch of films based on what’s come before. Just because Morbius got memed on by the internet, doesn’t mean that we need to go looking for faults in its successors. If faults present themselves, by all means, call them out, but don’t tear them apart before they’ve even landed in cinemas.
People tend to forget that Sony is also responsible for the Spider-Verse movies, which have probably been the most acclaimed Spidey movies, taking both superhero and animated movies to new heights of popularity and praise.
At the end of the day, whether or not these films turn out to be good, bad, or so-bad-that-they’re-good, it’s sure going to be interesting to watch it play out. It’s been a turbulent time for superhero films of late – DC has spent a decade struggling to make its cinematic universe work, only for it to end with a whimper. Even the juggernaut of the MCU has faced increasing criticism, with each new release bringing about new complaints of superhero fatigue.
So maybe it’s time to shake things up and let someone else have a go. Maybe Sony’s new slate of films will offer us something fresh, and given that Deadpool 3 and Joker: Folie à Deux are also bound to be far different to our typical superhero blockbusters, this year may be the refresher that we’ve all needed.
And for the more cynical out there, if nothing else, maybe a year dominated by Sony’s Spidey-Verse will make you appreciate the MCU and the new DCU that much more.
Here’s to new and hopefully better things in our superhero movies going forward!